Sound As Ever
Rating: 4.5/5

If "disaffection," "dysfunction," "detachment" are the defining buzzbytes of the lost/slacker/X-generation, You Am I's breathtaking debut album Sound As Ever is a genetic fuck-up, a freak. Where the '90s are about unplugging and tuning out (symbolised by Kurt Cobain howling "Here we are now, entertain us" and "A denial/A denial" on "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), the essence of Sounds As Ever is about connections, attachments, love and other bruises.

Underpinning many of frontman Tim Rogers' songs is an affection and sentimentality rarely attempted, and even more rarely achieved with such aplomb in rock & roll. "Trainspottin'" - an emotion-shot nod to a friend - typifies this. Rogers reminisces about the day they met, asking affectionately: "How long can we talk about Mick & Keef/ Bayou Country or Exile On Main Street?" Scored to a tunnel-vision tempo and incessant guitar riff, the song can be equally be appreciated for its rockin' revellry.

"Jaimme's Got A Gal," one of the album's most immediate tracks, is possessed of a similar sentiment. The ballad of an acquaintance who has left behind his old ways for new love, its positivity, however, is counterpointed by the darker urgency of lines like "Things I promised not to do to you today/ I sure need to tonight." Even on a track like the dark single "Adam's Ribs," where Rogers rails at how the fashion industry's perpetuation of waif-ism leads to anorexia with lines like "I'm dedicated follower of skin-tight/... As long as we throw up, everything'll be fine," there's a life-affirming zest that both subverts the intent and makes for an aural delight.

Like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Rogers' stance is not only embodied in the lyrics of tracks like "Trainspottin'," "Adam's Ribs" and "Forever and Easy" but in his cathartic delivery. There's an enthusiasm and ragged passion in Rogers' voice, Andy Kent's bass and Mark Tunaley's drums that cuts to the heart of each subject.

Sound As Ever rings with the kinetic dissonance of its time (at times echoing producer Lee Ranaldo's ban Sonic Youth), while marrying the Rolling Stones/Black Crowes swagger that informs Rogers and that the band has never quite achieved on disc before. In fact, at times, You Am I seems to enjoy hanging out its references for all to see. There are lyrical nods to Rolling Stones and Creedence in "Trainspottin'" and the Kinks on "Adam's Ribs," and "Forever and Easy" steals from the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" while the vocal mimics the Easybeats' Stevie Wright, circa "Evie."

If Sound As Ever is a sprawling gem, it is by no means an immediate experience - its approximate rush and the density of Ranaldo's production require some persistence. But rarely is rock this spirited, this focused... this fuckin' good. Love it hard.

John O'Donnell